Article Written by Natalie Goldberg
Written by Susan Charlotte
Directed by Antony Marseliss
Cast: Danny Aiello, Alma Cuervo, Lucy DeVito
I myself have never been to the Washington DC Holocaust Memorial. I’ve heard it’s fairly heartbreaking, and, even though I often push my Jewish religion aside, I feel it might affect me too strongly. Something that everyone who has visited mentions are the bins of shoes, left over from Holocaust victims. Apparently, the sight is quite astonishing, one of those things you have to be there for to truly understand. In Susan Charlotte’s The Shoemaker, Giuseppe (Danny Aiello), the protagonist, finds himself completely unable to move past shoes. His father, an Italian Jew, was a shoemaker, and, when Giuseppe was able to escape to New York, just on the brink of the Holocaust, his father stayed behind. However, he left him a pair of shoes, so Giuseppe always knew he was coming. He never did. Haunted by this, Giuseppe spends his life in a shop, fixing shoes. He never goes below 34th Street, and has a strained relationship with his daughter. “She’s all about facts,” he says, “I don’t need to know facts.”
The tragedy of 9/11 forces Giuseppe into reality. A young woman (Lucy DeVito) who works on Wall Street had dropped off her shoes a week prior. Giuseppe imagines she will likely never return. He confuses the Holocaust and 9/11 in his mind, unsure of the time period, the day, even the difference between the two tragedies. All he knows is that people give him shoes, make promises, and do not follow through. The play swells tremendously, action builds without the audience even realizing it, and a difficult topic is confronted. After all, there are only so many Holocaust stories to tell. There are only so many 9/11 stories to tell. They’ve become too overwhelming-names, ideas, things the surviving can hardly comprehend. What is unique about The Shoemaker is that it maintains as much subtlety as possible. Yes, within ten minutes we understand what the day is, and what has happened, but we do not want to stop listening. What is this man’s story? Why does he talk so much, why do his sentences blend together, why is his tone so starved for human connection?
In the same way that it is complex and risky to tackle the Holocaust and 9/11 without venturing into clichés, or becoming predictable, it is difficult to write a monologue that never crosses the line from triumphant into self-congratulatory. One of my biggest pet peeves is a monologue that says nothing other than flowery metaphors, and yet, Aiello would speak for huge chunks of time on end, and I would feel as though no time had even passed. Aiello is an acclaimed film actor, and I’d heard great things about his performance in this piece. It’s true, he becomes the character. There is no difference between him and Giuseppe, and the show itself almost feels like reality as a result of this. The story is so specific, there are no violins, no melodramatic moments of dropping to one’s knees and sobbing. Instead, historical events are recounted with a sense of calm, until Giuseppe begins to hear his father’s voice inside his head.
This aspect didn’t quite work for me. A voice inside your head is not quite so precise and pristine in delivering messages. I’m inclined to think that Giuseppe’s memory of his father is far more jumbled and complicated than an offstage voiceover. Up until this point, a viewer’s emotions have been so tormented, we’ve felt so much, that to cheapen it with an offstage sound effect is disappointing. Beyond that, it is hard to dislike anything about this brutally honest piece of work.
To be frank, I am not sure what the connection is between the Holocaust and 9/11. Both were atrocities, both are shocking in terms of what human beings are capable of. I don’t think this play really made me find an answer to that, but I’m not sure it was supposed to. I think the point was to make us all remember.